Following receipt of a stern text from Wanda, my personal physician and mentor regarding the many legal ways to prolong a problematic existence, I swallow a substance that causes profound side effects.
I am no stranger to substances that produce unusual effects and, in fact, consider myself (similarly inclined peers being long dead) to be one of the few tested adepts remaining in action. For more than six decades, I’ve sampled and enjoyed a variety of treats that produce off-kilter experiences, and I show little sign I’ll stray from the path.
But, in this case, recreation and enlightenment are not in the picture.
I’m taking steroids.
I’m not juicing it. Anyone who has seen my photo or spotted me at the grocery or liquor stores, knows I am no hulking, prematurely balding beast, pushing retirees and children aside as I swagger down the aisles, my back pebbled with acne, my testicles the size of garbanzo beans. No, I am the short, plump fellow with wavy hair, and a ball sack uncomfortably lax, the result of the relentless pull of gravity on a pair of old, sizable nuts.
You won’t find me bent over in a bathroom stall, pants at my ankles, as I jam a needle into my increasingly scarified ass, firing a hot load of roids prior to two hours of power lifting at the gym, and another hour spent screaming at other motorists as I speed down crowded streets in my Hummer, honking the horn in order to draw attention…to me!
No, I’m taking pills: two per day for seven days, the same steroid my beloved and long-gone Labrador, Arnie, was given at the end of a noble life.
During an initial consultation, Wanda tells me the steroid acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, and might help restore the hearing in my right ear.
“Take it,” she says, “and don’t get in touch with me until you finish the course. I’m hosting book club next month, and I need to concentrate. This novel is unbearable, something about a newly divorced woman on a voyage of self-discovery in a national park setting. She meets a bear, or maybe it’s a coyote.”
When Wanda and I first communicate, the eustachian tube in my ear has been plugged for six weeks. The loss of hearing is initially welcome. If someone (I’m not singling anyone out) blabs incessantly, I position myself so they speak into my right ear. I nod, occasionally say, “Uh huh,” or “Yep, you bet,” and enjoy the fact that, while that person’s lips move constantly, I am oblivious to her expressions of outrage at the special-needs hijinks of our president, or the latest insults Mitch McConnell and his band of craven, states-rights droolers deliver to women — of all races, ages, and nations.
Finally, though, the hearing problem makes it difficult for me to enjoy my favorite TV shows: Live PD, Alaska State Patrol, Sex Education, Fleabag, etc. I’m unable to hear the sirens on Live PD or the dialogue on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I tire of pretending to hear what Larry David and company say, laughing heartily at what I assume are the right moments so the unnamed person seated next to me (to my left) does not launch into a diatribe focused on my reluctance to purchase Chinese-made hearing aids, for $6,000.
I contact Wanda.
Wanda writes the scrip.
I pick the shit up at the Wal-Mart pharmacy, but I refuse to take the pills for two weeks.
I check the possible side effects.
I remember what the steroid did to Arnie — how the dog would pant incessantly, beg to go to the yard to pee every fifteen minutes or so, then wander off to be found befuddled and shivering beneath a neighbor’s deck.
Humans, it seems, can suffer effects that are just as troublesome: muscle cramps (the literature suggests a big increase in daily potassium intake); sudden weight gain and changes in dietary habits; blurred vision, pancreatitis, increased sweating, dry and thinning skin; vomiting of material resembling coffee grounds.
Other effects don’t concern me, since they mimic existing personal characteristics: depression, sleep problems, spinning sensation, mood swings with episodes of unprompted rage, troublesome thoughts and odd notions.
One possible effect stands out, and alarms me: the growth of a “fatty hump” between the shoulder blades.
A fatty hump? No amount of thick, wavy hair can shift attention from a hump, in particular if the hair is on the hump.
I text Wanda and alert her to my concerns.
She responds: “For fuck’s sake, don’t be a moron. It’s been two weeks, take the pills. And leave me alone. I’ve just baked a Beyond Beef meatloaf, and I’m reading.”
I decide to follow Wanda’s orders. Out of respect for my physician, I say nothing about the fact it is impossible to fashion a meatloaf from non-meat substitutes. Nor do I warn her about an upcoming bout of diarrhea.
I begin to feel some of the effects, though it’s been only an hour since I swallow the first two pills.
I must assemble a Wunderkammer. Stat!
I put together an impressive kammer in 1977, so I know I can do it again. I brim with confidence.
My 70s collection includes a Catholic priest’s Sick Room Box, and a two-foot-long wooden crucifix featuring a sliding top with a compartment beneath the lid that contains the dried remnants of folk-remedy unguents and the stub of a small red candle I suspect was exhausted during a disheartening vigil.
My kammer sports several squirrels hit by the No. 8 Denver bus, collected by my brother, Kurt, and a cousin, and encased in cloudy polymer goo. The carcasses are placed in a salvaged drugstore display case next to a number of ominous antique surgical instruments and what Kurt claims is a mummified pancreas from a Cornish miner who expired as a result of an underground incident at the end of the 19th century.
A tallit and its embroidered bag, the duo likely abandoned by a disillusioned, gay rabbinical student some time in the 50s, provides a balance to the Christian items in the collection. Next to the bag and the fringe of the shawl which I arranged to spill suggestively from the bag’s opening, is a warped Knights of Columbus ceremonial sword that, had it been employed in battle, would have invited the quick demise of its bearer. Add to this a classic, feathered ceremonial hat that once sat atop a Catholic during special events at the cathedral, and I’ve assembled an impressive ensemble.
This first Wunderkammer is completed with an array of Republican presidential campaign buttons —Harding and Coolidge, Coolidge and Dawes, Hoover, a rare “My Pick is Dick,” a comforting “I Like Ike,” and a poignant, rusted primary campaign button on which is printed the image of a thoughtful Nelson Rockefeller.
I spend several hours contemplating a new kammer and at day’s end (4 p.m.) I wolf down a load of THC edibles and lose touch with my surroundings.
I eat three tablespoons of cottage cheese, and take two pills.
Three hours later, my attention wanders and labels blur as I make my way down the aisles at the market. I look in the basket I carry in my left hand and spot two cans of bamboo shoots (an ingredient I detest), two cans of water chestnuts (likewise), and a can of Spam.
How did these get here?
Spam is a meat-like treat I purchase now and then, hiding the can from the unnamed person’s view, frying up slabs when she leaves the house to complain about the latest insults Mitch McConnell and his band of craven states-rights droolers deliver to women — of all races, ages, and nations — as she chugs decaf with her friends at the coffee shop.
But, this Spam is different…troubling. It is Spam Lite. It contains few of the ingredients that make original Spam a desirable and historically significant treat: an overload of sodium, a huge amount of fat per serving, unidentified industrial debris, the maximum number of allowable rodent hairs, enough calories in one slab to keep a Syrian refugee family alive for a week.
“What the hell is happening to me?,” I ask myself as I put two bunches of organic kale in the basket, then scurry to the vegan specialties case to inspect packages of “Facsimile Cheese” products. I panic as I reach for the pseudo mozzarella.
I purchase the goods in my basket, hustle from the store and drive home, my vision swimming. I’m doing fifteen miles per hour under the speed limit when I barely miss a fellow elder riding a Rascal in a crosswalk, oxygen pack on the seat next to her, cannula secure, her peekapoo plopped on her broad lap. A sticker on the rear bumper of the Rascal features a cartoonish paw print and informs me the driver is “A Proud Dog Mom.” The peekapoo wears a service animal vest.
I make a mental note to call the county administrator and complain about the flawed service animal permit process. If adjustments aren’t made soon, I’ll encounter a goof at the store in the company of a comfort parakeet, or a service boa. If I am still taking steroids, and I see this … no telling what might happen.
There’s not a lot of flesh on a parakeet once you remove the feathers and the inedible head (no amount of braising will transform that nasty little beak), but I’m sure there’s a recipe on a “Foods of Borneo” website that features what little flesh hangs on a fragile keet frame.
The near-collision demands bourbon — Breckenridge. A triple. And some tincture. A couple edibles, for the nerves.
I don’t remember anything that happens after 4 p.m.
I take two pills.
I watch nine flash mob videos filmed a few years back, when it was all the rage to have a crowd of underemployed musicians and singers show up at a mall and perform Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” to the delight of unsuspecting shoppers and stunned food court devotees.
One such performance takes place in the atrium of a four-story mall in Tokyo.
I weep as I watch: the coincidence of surging, 18th century zeitgeist-saturated Teutonic music with a rule-bound Asian tribal population is more than I can handle. I listen, and cry. It makes sense that these two nations joined as military allies in World War II.
I also sob uncontrollably as I watch a video showing a litter of samoyed puppies tumble into a crib occupied by a set of Norwegian twins, to lick and cuddle the adorable, soon-to-be-blond berserkers.
I have it on good authority that the samoyed is an unpredictable breed, genetically molested for centuries, confused and anxious, given to unprovoked violence. I await the video showing the puppies’ mother leaping over the rail of the crib and dismembering little Greta and Gerd, leaving the bloody mess of mangled mini Nords for the pups’ lunch. I will probably weep.
I do a dropper or two, have a sip (or three) of Breckenridge, and make dinner.
I decide to prepare a classic: baked pasta with three cheeses.
I’m told I forget to include the pasta.
Two pills, milk chaser.
I’ve long associated competent cookery and a knowledge of food, it’s preparation and service, with sex.
Freud would riffle through his Pleasure Principle backpack to find a judgmental, Victorian explanation for this association but, of course, he’s dead. Now, the best a shrink can do is recommend a preferred selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and send me packing, bill in hand.
I’m tempted to Google the association, but hesitate for fear of tainting what has been a satisfying conjunction.
For a while last year, I zone in on Felicity Cloake, the clearly healthy, repressed, and abnormally tidy author of the “How to Cook the Perfect…” column in The Guardian.
Cloake, however, fails to respond to my informative e-mail listing the advantages of the Hatch green chile over the weak Euro options she employs in a number of her recipes, and ignores my offer to ship a load of the wonderful southern New Mexico-grown members of the nightshade family in a styrofoam container labeled “Knitting Supplies.”
Spurned and deeply offended, I turn to Grace Dent, the snarky restaurant critic for the same publication, anticipating the day we share whelk fritters and hispi cabbage with anchovy sauce before adjourning to our chamber (wc included) on the second floor above the inn. I resolve to spend whatever time is necessary to secure her hair in a tight bun prior to our flight of sweet discovery.
Today, however, propelled by prednisone, my focus flits to Fuschia Dunlop, matronly expert in all treats Szechuanese.
I spend three hours watching Fuschia videos; she captures me with her accent (“oh, so mahsterfulllll”), her subtle hand gestures, and her in-depth discussion of fish fragrant flavor (surprise…there’s no fish!).
Fuschia is utterly entrancing as she details the creation of strange flavor sauce for use on bang bang chicken. She explains that the name of the dish was created in the distant past when Chinese cooks bludgeoned poached chicken flesh with “cudgels” in order to ready it for shredding. I’m particularly excited when Fuschia imitates the sound of cudgel meeting poultry.
Fuschia finishes with a flourish, explaining the use of ginger and spring onions in a poaching broth to rid the brew and its contents of “a somewhat off-putting fishy taste.”
I watch Fuschia, and realize: If I hadn’t had my cancerous prostate sliced out, this is the point in the video where I experience an erection.
Instead of fondling a boner, I weep.This steroid is messing with me. I consult the warning literature that accompanies the prednisone. Maybe I am doing something wrong.
The list of precautions included with my scrip reads like the rules at a Carmelite convent. I reach the end of the list of no-nos, and find: “Do not drink alcohol when taking this medication.”
Since the warning is printed at the end of the list, I reckon it’s not important.
I end the day by downing a muscular vodka tonic: a few cubes in a water glass, the glass three-quarters full of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, a hefty splash of Hendrick’s gin (for flavor) and a tiny bit of Fever Tree tonic floated on the surface.
The drink has no adverse effect on me, though I endure a visit from Berlioz, who berates me for a good half hour, because I watch flash mob “Ode to Joy” videos.
I go to bed and pull reading material from the nightstand: Robert Claiborne’s “The Roots of English.”
“Joy,”is related to the Indo-European root words geh2u, gah2u, and gau, and the suffixed extended form gaw-idh-e, evolving through the Latin guadere, and the Old French, joie. Also interesting, the Germanic “yodel,” develops from “yo,” a form of “joy.”
Were I able to achieve an erection while watching Fuschia Dunlop add Szechuan peppercorns to a recipe, I would yodel. Loudly.
I snarf down two pills, then sit on the toilet, struggling to think big thoughts.
This is the best I come up with: When a well-composed and executed two- or-three dimensional object, a stream of organized sounds, a coherent paragraph, or any other thing of the like, possesses the form and force to obliterate me…that’s what I shall seek from this point forward. To not be me, there, no I, not here either.
Truth is, it’s this fucking steroid that is causing me to not be here, or there, or I, whenever, and not in the right way. It’s eroding my aesthetic sensibilities, and destroying the ordinarily smooth melding of one moment of experience with the next, altering the nature of duration, fracturing the stream of consciousness.
Or something like that.
My decision to imbibe last night leads to four hours of troubled sleep. I crawl into bed at 11 p.m. and begin to drop off at 2 a.m., when I’m kept from refreshing, deep sleep by raccoons and troubling dreams.
As I teeter at the edge of slumber, I’m roused by a blast of bright light from the motion sensor lamps mounted on my neighbors’ garage.
I stumble to the front window and look out, not knowing whether Jim and Michelle are home, or off again on one of their trips to Machu Picchu, Des Moines, wherever.
Perhaps the lights are set off by gypsies determined to smash window glass, steal flat screens and kitchen appliances. Maybe it’s Mel, the substance-addled county road department employee, trashed to the point where, as per routine, he staggers to the wrong address, collapses, and spends an hour or two slumped at the threshold, whimpering and calling out for his ex-wife, Ruby. Ruby left town six years ago, married an OTR trucker named Diego, and works as a cocktail waitress on the day shift at a low-end casino in Henderson, Nev. She’s never been happier.
Then, I spot the two biggest raccoons I have ever seen, the foul vermin waddling up my driveway, each at least three feet long and a good foot wide, gigantic members of the largest of the procyonids.
No doubt these devils are searching for food, but what else are they up to? Nothing good, I assure you: the sinister species accounts for 26 percent of animal cases of rabies, which in turn comprise 91 percent of all cases reported.
For god’s sake, these nefarious brutes set off the lights. They are bent on mayhem! And here am I, in a steroid dither, still blitzed as a result of my warm relationship with Tito, absent the .44 magnum I’ve been intending to purchase at Wally’s Gun-a-Rama. The pistol has amazing stopping power, in particular when dispensing a volley of hollow points. There’s not a raccoon anywhere that can survive this kind of assault.
Then, I remember that rabies is but one part of the problem, since these filthy pests also carry roundworm and leptospirosis, and are known to be aggressive toward humans, in particular if the animal is infected with one or more diseases.
I turn on the porch lights and knock on the window. The coons stop in their tracks and look over, then turn and walk slowly away. I knock again and damned if the fat boy bringing up the rear doesn’t make a stunning, quick move toward the porch.
This awful creature means business!
The lead beast turns and delivers some sort of coon signal to its enraged compatriot, prompting it to resume its place in line. The monsters disappear into the dark of the cul de sac.
I consult Claiborne to discover the Indo-European root word for “raccoon.” I find nothing, hurry to my computer, Google the creature, and learn that this nuisance is native only to my home continent — the animal unknown to the Kurgans who once roamed the Pontic-Caspian Steppe.
I sleep, but my rest is ragged before I wake the final time at 6, the sun beginning to light Siberia With a View from beyond the Divide.
Ordinarily, the soft glow of a sun not yet cresting the 14ers to the east is comforting, but I’m trashed on a steroid and I can’t shake the dream that dogs me during the night.
A drum dream.
I take another two pills, down two cups of Supremo dark roast, and review my dream log.
The paradiddle is not what many folks think it is. They wouldn’t know a paradiddle from a ratamacue. Much less a double ratamacue.
In truth, there are few who do. Those few are drummers. In my case, a former drummer.
The paradiddle has nothing to do with amateur pornography and the Housewives of Tampa website; it’s a drum rudiment. Depending on whom you consult, there are as many as forty of these rudiments.
Learn the rudiments when you’re young, practice them, master them, and you develop a foundation upon which you can build a variety of structures. Practice the rudiments and you develop independent coordination — the ability to simultaneously work different patterns with each hand within an overarching rhythmic context.
Or something like that.
I begin learning the rudiments when I am 10 years old, working on them every afternoon after school, tapping them out on a practice pad — a wood base supporting an inclined slab of wood, the slab covered with a thick mat of rubber. The purpose of the practice pad is to keep parents, siblings and neighbors sane.
I learn the rudiments in order to do a bit of martial drumming as a member of a youth drum and bugle corps. The corps is overseen by a pack of frustrated and angry veterans of World War II, and the year I spend as a member of the corps involves suffering of a kind and intensity I’ve rarely experienced in the 60-plus years since.
I move from the martial mode to encounter tympani, triangle, bells, cymbals, bass drum, bongos, conga, vibraphone and, of course, the beguiling guiro, my advanced instruction provided by two professionals — one the senior percussionist with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, the other a noted regional jazz and big band drummer.
I am introduced to the drum set.
To play a set of drums, these days called a “kit,” it is necessary to extend independent coordination to the feet. The hands hold the sticks or brushes, the feet work pedals — on a bass drum or drums, on a contraption called the “high hat.” With sufficient practice, a new foundation is in place, with myriad paths possible from there.
In my dream, I look down at my first kit: a basic set of Ludwig gold sparkles with bass, snare, high hat, one ride tom, a cheap ride cymbal, crudely ridged and thick as a car fender.
I’m at the fall version of the bi-annual Dance Social at Byers Junior High School, in Denver, Colorado, a member of the dance band. The dance band plays for the first half hour of the after-school event, a ninth-grader spins 45s on a turntable for the next half hour. Ice cream, cookies, and sodas (called “pop” in Denver) are served. Everyone goes home, many attendees in love for the first time.
I hold a set of brushes in my 12-year-old paws. I gaze up at the band director, Mr. Feldman. He wears a checked sport coat and a plaid bow tie, a smear of Brylcreem on the right lens of his eyeglasses. He raises his favorite teak baton, gives the members of the dance band the downbeat, and we launch.
Our first number is “That’s Amore,” with a special vocal by Danette Morris. The mic doesn’t work, feeds back, and no one can hear Danette. She breaks down halfway through the number and rushes from the gym, trailed by a pack of fretting, cookie-toting girlfriends.
Our second number is “Chances Are,” with a special vocal by ninth-grader Craig Blondell. Craig has put together an outfit for the performance, including an ankle length cerulean blue velour cape with a fake ermine collar and a white silk shirt on which he has glued colored sequins in the shape of a treble clef. When Craig watches Danette crash and burn, he hastily departs the venue, claiming a sudden onset of vapors.
Next, “In The Mood.” The two clarinet players fail miserably.
Next, a snappy version of “Volare,” in the middle of which I abandon my Brazilian samba tom and rim work to propel the piece with a pair of claves.
For the finale — the slow dance during which Mr. Pendleton, the principal, allows a modicum of friction between partners — we offer our version of “Misty.”
Most of the students remain with backs against the walls of the gym during the slow dance, girls at the north wall, boys at the south. Many of them are in love for the first time.
Darin and Sharon, as always, make a show of their slow dance skills, tempting Pendleton to halt the proceedings but, with only one eight-bar repeat, the song ends before he takes action.
Darin is held back two grades over the years and is the only 16 year-old in eighth grade. He has a car, and drives to school. A year later, Darin is arrested while attempting the armed robbery of a Piggly Wiggly and is carted off to the state reformatory in Buena Vista. Sharon marries a chap six years her senior when she is 16, has four kids (two by him, one each with husbands three and four), smokes three packs of Kents per day and dies of COPD at age 64, living with ten cats in a singlewide in a trailer park north of Denver.
As per tradition, Darin and Sharon are ejected from the gym during the turntable dance phase after they attempt to do the dirty dog to “Rockin’ Robin.”
Mr. Feldman says my brush work on “Chances Are” is “nearly above average.”
Rumor has it that Feldman and Miss Simms, the home economics teacher, adjourn after the social to his small office adjacent to the lunchroom kitchen, lock the door, toss back shots of creme de menthe, and exchange body fluids. It’s also said the duo is anything but quiet.
Tito and I get together at 4.
I’m dogged by another drum dream. This steroid is playing fast and loose with my sense of well being.
Key term, “flam.”
As with paradiddle, the word “flam” has nothing to do with pornography, as in “Federico was gentle, at first, but my defenses gave way and I cried out ‘Flam me, you wild Calabrian stud. And he did…again and again.’”
It’s another drum rudiment.
Dream log, entry 2.
I look down at my second kit: Ludwigs again, red sparkle, (with the substitution of a Slingerland chrome snare), bass, floor tom, two ride toms, high hat, ride Zildjian, stand crash Zildjian, the bass drum’s front head hand painted, with the name of the band — Pleasant Street — arching over a stylized image of the sun, an orb with a smiling face and wavy rays wiggling from its perimeter to the edge of the circle of taut, Mylar skin.
The drum head is decorated by the band’s front man during a 72-hour black beauty binge that fuels a three-date gig at a notorious Aspen nightclub. Seized by inspiration and biphetamine sulfate, he completes his masterpiece, his only achievement other than a brief tenure later that year as Joni Mitchell’s lover.
The night after he paints the drum head, one of us accidentally sets the second story of the club ablaze, and we are compelled to abandon the structure and Aspen in a hurry, never to return. I won’t identify the unwitting arsonist, since I’m not clear on the statute of limitations as it applies to such an offense. He won’t be hard to identify, since all but one member of the band is dead.
Despite much fairer prices in 1967, my pharma budget is overwhelming, and I can’t afford fancy protective cases for my instruments. The drum shells are battered, the rims nicked, the cymbals dull and dirty.
In the dream, we’ve finished a two-nighter at appropriately named Trauma, in Philadelphia, during which I pass out while attempting a flam during the third set, pitching forward on to my kit, unnoticed by my bandmates or members of the audience. We get on the train for a late-night trip back to NYC. I lose what little money I make at the gig to Joni in a rigged game of gin. She teaches me to play the game, and I’m convinced she skews the rules. You can’t trust a Canadian.
Suddenly, (dream time, you know) it’s the next night, 11 p.m. and I’m scheduled to plop myself behind the drums on stage at The Balloon Farm, on St. Mark’s Place, a crowd of geeks milling around in the cavernous space, the light show beaming down from the balconies above the open expanse of the old Polish Hall.
It will be our first set in a three-set night. We’re the featured act at the club, a crew of crazed motherfuckers from high altitude, come to the ultimate metropolis to stun otherwise blasé nightlifers with outrageous behavior and unpredictable frontier ways.
Turns out, that’s all we’ve got.
The opening act is a band called The Free Spirits.
I watch them ready for their first set. There are five of them: two guitar players, a bass player, a saxophone player, a drummer.
The stage manager gnaws on a sausage and peppers sandwich and tells me “they’re kinda jazzy.”
The lead guitar player is a guy named Larry Coryell.
The saxophonist is Jim Pepper.
The second guitarist is Chris Hills.
The bass player is Columbus Chip Baker.
The drummer: Bob Moses.
The drummer is a slight fellow. He lurks in the shadow at the edge of the stage, looking like an ungroomed Weimar poet or Egon Schiele’s half brother, his arm locked with that of a woman four inches taller than he.
Bob Moses is one of the greatest drummers of his time, of his generation. Likely still is, unless he’s dead.
I stand backstage and watch the openers play. The crowd is inattentive at first, since they’ve come to watch demented mountaineers go nuts and do things that are borderline illegal and/or demanding of immediate medical attention.
Soon, however the crowd warms: goofs from Jersey, Staten Island, and Westchester clump swaying near the lip of the stage, blissful, hip. Jazzy. These musicians are amazing, light years beyond we drug-addled cowboys in style, execution, intelligence, mastery.
The Free Spirits open for us the next two nights.
Both bands are scheduled the next Friday and Saturday at the club.
We open for the new headliner.
I probably should not have watched Moses while I was high on acid. A month or so later, I’m done. Some things are too obvious to ignore.
But, I still play a mean flam.
I whip up a large vodka/gin/tonic and make a mental note to purchase another handle of Tito’s the next day.
I drift off as I watch episode 6, season 2, of Mozart in the Jungle. Someday soon, I will master the oboe.
I decide to read the entire Forme of Cury before I sleep again.
This could take a while.
The Forme of Cury has nothing to do with curry. It is a compilation of 14th century English recipes, allegedly created or adapted by Richard II’s cooks. The term “Cury” is derived from the Medieval French, “cuire,” to cook. The recipes were first scrawled on a scroll and, among them, is said to be a dandy for fricassee of whale, which the last of the Plantagenets likely enjoyed on special occasions.
I decide to cook one recipe from the Forme per day, for a month. I may have trouble obtaining a whale, and porpoises are hard to come by, as are curlews. I decide to begin with this:
Egurdouce of Fyfshe
Take Loch op Tench op Solys fmyte hem on pecys. fry he in oyle. take half wyne half vyneg and fug _ _ _ make a firyp. do to oynons icorue raifons corance. and grete raylons. do to hole fpices. gode powdos and fait, meffe fyfsh, lay fewe aboue and sue forth.
It’s going to be great, if I succeed in making the firyp and can scare up some fugs and raylons. The Loch op Tench could be a problem, but I assume farm-raised salmon will suffice. Salmon goes well with powdos.
My thoughts grow increasingly fragmentary, compartmentalized, losing any relationship to one another, following no logic, no discernible course. My cells are in overdrive, devouring incredible amounts of adenosine triphosphate. Where do I get this stuff?
Now… to the Wunderkammer!
There is a box in the garage, stashed beneath stacks of junk and old hardbound philosophy examination texts sent to me during my brief and disgraceful turn as an adjunct instructor at a second-rate state college. I intend to read a few of them and, if the prednisone course is extended, I might get to it. Few things refresh the spirit better than ten or so pages of “Gilbert Ryle: His Hour Has Come.”
If I recall correctly, the box in question contains prime material for the new kammer: as many as a dozen, two-inch-high lead figurines — military miniatures brought from England to the youthful Karl by his maternal grandmother, Minnie, and his great aunt, Hazel.
At one time, young Karl possesses complete sets of:
• Queen’s Bodyguard, Yeoman Beefeaters, full dress, 10 pieces with posable left arms.
- A 31-piece Queen Elizabeth II Coronation State Coach array — considered the ultimate prize by those in the know.
- The Coldstream Guards Band Drum Section, 12 pieces, with movable right arms.
And many more sets, since Minnie and Hazel make yearly if not twice yearly trips to the Motherland.
I connect to eBay and Etsy to assess the current value of the pseudo antique items.
The coronation array is going for $800. Several other sets are offered for as much $500. I could rake in a considerable sum if I put my sets up for grabs.
If I had the sets.
If I hadn’t melted most of the figures when, as a mentally jumpy pre teen, I read about Newton’s alchemical adventures and decide I, too, can transmute lead into gold. I perform my experiments in a makeshift lab and, no question, suffer a bit of neurological damage in the fume-filled enclosure, my soldiers bubbling into puddles over the hot plate. I attribute later difficulties with algebra to my brush with the hermetic art.
On to another stop, on the steroid express. I can’t get off this bus!
While wandering the web after my Etsy visit, I make the mistake of reviewing several of our president’s tweets, lighting upon a gem: “My two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.”
I remember that Mussolini once said the epitaph on his tomb should be, “Here lies one of the most intelligent animals who ever appeared on the face of the Earth.”
I Google the image of Benito and Claretta Petacci, the once coosome twosome hanging rigid and upside down from gas station girders in Milan. I first see this photo in Life Magazine in the 50s and a few years later, when I am able to drive, I find myself unable to turn into a Standard station.
I wonder if Donald Trump has read about Mussolini. Actually, I wonder if he can read at all, since it’s not necessary for a mentally stable, marginally successful real estate developer to be literate in order to be, like, really smart. He can hire someone to do the reading for him.
I wonder if Melania is familiar with Claretta. There is still time to flee to the home country.
On to yet another stop on the line.
I tune to NPR during a broadcast of ridiculous Ted Talks on The Ted Radio Hour, before which a nitwit announces “We have to believe in the impossible.”
Thanks to prednisone, I realize that, yes, I can believe in the impossible. It’s still impossible, but why not believe it?
This must be what it’s like to be a Baptist.
On to something else.
The mood swings that accompany my steroid use lead me down some dark corridors this final evening.
I drink a second vodka tonic, take a dropper’s worth of my pal Joe’s custom tincture, and shuck anything resembling a tether to a stable existence as I watch members of the Tulsa PD drug strike force tase a past-her-prime stripper found in possession of fentanyl after she collapses to the pavement in the 7-11 parking lot. The members of the thin blue line realize she has overdosed, and they’ve tased an unconscious perp. They administer Narcan to revive her. Then, in order to serve and protect, they tase her again.
During the commercials, I wonder what oddsmakers in Vegas would set as the over/under for the number of years the human species will continue to survive, since it’s obvious everyone wants a new SUV and can give a shit about the survival of a habitable environment. Grandkids be damned, they shout, I want a Range Rover!
The over/under on this one would be a good wager to put on the big board at the casino sports book. If most bettors take the over (as most will, driven to the choice by uninformed hope and fear, rather than science) and it doesn’t pan out, no big deal, since there’s no one left to collect.
If the over takes the day, winners will have a bit of extra cash to squander at the tables during the little time that’s left — after all, the oddsmakers are rarely off by much.
The under, of course, is a pretty stupid bet. I know stupid bets; I’ve placed far too many of them. Had I not, I would own a new SUV. Mine would not be a Range Rover, since I’ve read negative things about the vehicle in Consumer Reports. I fancy American made — perhaps a Navigator.
I phase out as members of the PD gang unit in Brookline, Ma., roust a teenage graffiti artist. The kid wears a Sponge Bob T-shirt. The officers tase him. Twice. The public is served, the neighborhood protected.
As I fade, it hits me: the Wunderkammer piece de resistance.
I have the ideal space, a windowless room in the basement, currently full of paintings, with small wine rack that holds one bottle of ’92 Pahlmeyer red, one of Sang des Cailloux, five bottles of Cotes du Rhone, and a single bottle of cheap but delicious Pigeoulet de Provence.
The paintings and wine can be transferred to the guest bedroom, providing yet another reason to not receive guests.
I’ll remove the carpet and trim from the empty room, then paint floor, ceiling, walls, and door with Black 3.0, the blackest black acrylic paint available to ordinary consumers.
I’ll contract the services of Alonzo and Jimmy, the neighborhood’s premiere delinquents and, as soon as the snow melts, they’ll take to the nearby forest in search of birds of all sizes that fell to the ground and were mummified by cruel Nature.
The birds will be encased in polymer goo, the new, improved goo that doesn’t yellow with age.
I’ll install a system of of tracked pin spots s on the ceiling, the tracks and fixtures painted with Black 3.0. The rays from the spots will be tightly focused and incredibly bright.
The birds will be hung from nearly invisible filaments in accord with a perspective similar to that used by Raphael in The School of Athens, the sight line established 67 inches above the floor, the horizon line and vanishing point 74 inches above the floor on the back wall.
When visitors (reservations only) arrive, they enter a space darker than any they’ve known. The door is closed behind them and I switch on my computer controlled lighting system, spots illuminating the stark, brittle creatures one row at a time from front to back, the rows lit at 10-second intervals. With the ten rows of carcasses starkly illuminated, a set of spots switches on to show this, written in loose hand on the back wall: “Ten-to-the-thirty-eighth billion years. Time Flies!”
No explanation of the statement will be offered. A select few will realize this is the projected time in the future that protons, universe-wide, are expected to fall victim to entropy, dissolving into their constituent particles, the whole show going dark. Like the Wunderkammer room.
I wake in the middle of the night. It’s an unusually warm February here in Siberia With a View. I’m disappointed when I realize that fimbulwinter will not begin this year.
I need to call Wanda, first thing in the morning.
I’m panting, and feel the urge to go outside, pee in the yard, then join the raccoons beneath the neighbor’s deck.
I can’t hear a damned thing.